The Words We Whisper

Written by Mary Ellen Taylor
Review by Lorelei Brush

Zara, a hospice nurse, returns to the home of the Italian grandmother who helped raise her and her older half-sister. Zara’s skills are now needed by the family. But before her grandmother dies, she asks Zara to clean out the attic and display every item. After days of dragging boxes, furniture, and clothes to the garage, Zara discovers her grandmother is searching for a box she hid years ago. Inside are precious items saved from the old woman’s days in Italy during World War II.

Inside the box are a journal and a valuable emerald brooch. As Zara and her sister read through the saga of the war years, they pull information from their grandmother that she has never discussed with her American family. Even at the end of her life, she is only willing to tell small bits and pieces at any one time. The girls learn about daring and heroics and find answers to questions about their forebears that they didn’t know they had.

The story is a luscious interweaving of a spy thriller and a family saga. The reader is at once entranced by the activities of a seamstress during the war and the process by which the granddaughters discover who they are. In the midst of this process, for example, Zara meets the husband of a woman with cancer that she cared for in the last weeks of her life. This woman prepared a bucket list for her husband, which ended with “take Zara to dinner”. He did. Zara’s reactions to this budding romance form an essential part of her self-discovery and a joyful sub-plot for the book.